VMware, one of the newest darlings on Wall Street and the kingpin of server virtualisation, is hosting the VMworld 2007 show in San Francisco last week. And the company's slimmed down, bare metal hypervisor, called ESX Server 3i, is undoubtedly going to be a hot topic of discussion.
ESX Server 3i, which is a much skinnier version of the company's flagship virtual machine hypervisor, is not only designed to have a smaller footprint on systems, but to actually be embedded into systems.
Embedding a virtual machine hypervisor into a server, workstation, desktop, or laptop is the next logical thing for the computer industry to do, and even VMware's main competition in the space, XenSource, agrees.
Last week, knowing that VMware was prepping to launch ESX Server 3i ahead of the VMworld event, XenSource jumped the gun and debuted its own XenServer OEM Edition, a hypervisor that XenSource and Citrix Systems, the company's future parent if the $500m proposed acquisition goes through, hope makers of servers and other kinds of X64 gear will embed on hard disks or in flash drives and make a part of their machines from the get-go.
ESX Server is, for all practical purposes, the default hypervisor for X64 computing in the data centre, although the Xen hypervisor is making some headway now that XenEnterprise V4 is on the market and offering equivalent functionality and Linux distributors Red Hat and Novell have embedded Xen inside their respective RHEL 5 and SLES 10 Linuxes.
VMware sells a lot of instances of its Workstation hypervisor to application developers and has add ons to help manage sophisticated and virtualised test environments, and it distributes plenty of copies of its freebie VMware Server hypervisor as well. But ESX Server is the de facto X64 server hypervisor at this point, and it is the one that companies certify their software on first.
According to Bogomil Balkansky, senior director of product marketing at VMware, the new ESX Server 3i hypervisor weighs in at 32 MB, which is a mere slip of a thing compared to the current ESX Server 3 hypervisor that is at the heart of the VMware Infrastructure 3 stack that was announced in June 2006.
The problem with ESX Server 3, however, is that at 2 GB in size, it was far too fat to be embedded in flash memory so it could become a transparent part of a computer, much as the Basic Input/Output System, or BIOS, in PCs and servers is today.
People do not want to think about hypervisors, much less install them, and if VMware wanted to compete with Xen, it had to trim down ESX Server 3. And that is why Balkansky says the techies at VMware ripped out the ESX Service Console, which made up the bulk of the code in the hypervisor, and created a new external management mechanism to replace it.
So ESX Server 3i consists of a baby Linux (used merely to boot the hypervisor), the ESX Server kernel, and a few other things - nothing more.
ESX Server 3i will be supported alongside the regular ESX Server 3 hypervisor for years to come, and is at this point only available as an embedded product. The skinnier hypervisor will be available as a standalone product at some later date, according to Balkansky, and does not have any features crippled.
The hypervisor supports the same iron and the same operating system guests as the regular ESX Server, and moreover, it does not require special hardware features added to X64 processors - the AMD-V or Intel VT instructions - to operate. All of the add-on bits of the Infrastructure 3 stack will work on the skinnier hypervisor, just as they do on the older, fatter one.
Over time, it is reasonable to expect that the ESX Server 3i hypervisor - or its future kicker - becomes the default hypervisor at VMware and both VMware Server and the older ESX Server 3 hypervisors get sunsetted. VMware has too many hypervisors right now to support, even if they are compatible.
Given the OEM nature of this product, VMware is not announcing prices for ESX Server 3i. Balkansky says that the company, which is a majority-owned subsidiary of disk array maker EMC that went public in August and that now has a market capitalisation approaching $26bn, expects the first servers built using ESX Server 3i and storing it on flash memory on system motherboards will debut in the fourth quarter.
In addition to the new hypervisor, VMware will announce a new piece of its Infrastructure 3 stack, called Site Recovery Manager.
This add-on automates the workflows for disaster recovery operations relating to virtualised server slices. Infrastructure 3 has tools to backup and recover virtual machines, but Site Recovery Manager sets up the order of operations to automate which VMs get recovered where and when they get recovered.
The software also includes facilities to take snapshots of running VM instances and do a test recovery operation on a designated server, providing what is equivalent (in terms of testing) of a roll swap operation in high availability clustering scenarios for physical servers. Disaster recovery is just theory unless you actually test the recovery--and do so often.
Packaging and pricing for Site Recovery Manager were not announced, since the product will not ship until sometime during the first half of 2008.